An unbeaten run through the opening rounds saw Lightning the first to seal a spot in the semi-finals with convincing wins over Manchester Thunder and Wasps. No stranger to the top spot, Lightning were seeking glory after obtaining the title in the competition’s inaugural year in 2017.
The competition, which see’s three shooting zones of different points value, drew in a sell-out crowd filled with netball fans eager to witness fast paced, thrilling games of just 12 minutes each. With each team given the option to add All-Star picks to their line-up, Lightning went above and beyond, bringing about the return of long bomb queen and England Roses centurion, Jo Harten.
Having played for Lightning as an undergraduate student at Loughborough University at the start of her career, Harten impressed beyond all belief, sinking shot after shot and aiding Lightning to victory. Harten’s efforts in turn saw her deservedly awarded the MVP Award for the day’s tournament.
Lightning got off to an emphatic start, despite Thunder taking the opening point it was soon followed by a 5 point long bomb from the queen herself, Jo Harten. Settling into the game, her partner Ella Clark soon doubled Lightning’s score with an equally wide range shot.
With Assistant Coach Sam Griffin firing the golden buzzer, Lightning pushed on, Harten using the double point advantage to instantly add 10 more points to the board. Rotating the bench and sinking 5 pointers again and again, Harten played to the crowds’ roars giving Lightning a wide lead. With their power play over and Thunder activating theirs, young goal attack Lucy Parize, took note of her teammates confidence and continued to add points with a seamless 5-point shot.
The clock ticked down and Thunder struggled to claw back the gap, Lightning sealed the deal and secured their first win of the day 31 – 15.
Loughborough Lightning 31 – 15 Manchester Thunder
Round two saw Lightning return to court, this time to face reigning Fast5 champs and fellow midlands rivals Wasps. With both sides boasting England Roses shooting powerhouses in Dunn and Harten, the crowd geared up for a thrilling spectacle. With the winners claiming a place in the semi-finals, both teams stepped out with all to play for.
Two minutes passes with neither side gaining advantage. Wasps took the opening point, pushing on to five nil within seconds. Harten soon levelled the score as Wasps activated their power play and Lightning began their defence. Parize added a three-point shot with Harten following shortly with yet another five. The game far from over, Harten opened Lightning’s power play period with a huge 10-point shot giving Lightning a momentous lead.
Bayman continued to rotate the bench with Suzie Liverseidge, Claire Maxwell and Hannah Joseph providing fresh legs at crucial opportunities. Harten meanwhile added another 20 points to the board as the power play ticked down. One minute remained and Lightning held strongly onto their 28-point lead, the final whistle confirming their place in the 2019 semi-finals.
Loughborough Lightning 48 – 20 Wasps
Whilst the remaining rounds continued, Lightning took a well-deserved break and waited patiently to see who their semi-final opponents would be.
With Celtic Dragons named to face Lightning in the second semi-final clash, Lightning had just twelve minutes to secure their spot in the final. The opening minutes saw neither side claim a point before Dragons started the proceedings. Harten soon retaliated with a five-point shot and Lightning levelled the score. A further twenty points from Harten in Lightning’s power play and confidence was restored. However, Dragons, back on the attack, stole some shots of their own during their power play to level the score with just minutes left on the clock. Lightning held on and pushed ahead by five only to see Dragons add three to the board. A lightning fast defence from Sam May took the ball out of play with seconds remaining and with a missed penalty, Lightning stole the win.
Loughborough Lightning 35 – 33 Celtic Dragons
A familiar match up loomed as Lightning geared up for the final against rivals Wasps. Both sides held a Fast5 title, Lightning in 2017 and Wasps in 2018, but who was to claim the 2019 crown?
Both sides claimed a five-point shot within seconds of the game starting but it was Lightning’s quickly enforced power play that changed the game. In just two minutes shooting sensation Jo Harten stole the show, claiming a whopping 40 points, much to the dismay of a floundering Wasps. The ever-changing power and ferocity of the centre court trio Liverseidge, Maxwell and Joseph kept the ball moving down through the attack after May, Roddy, Harvey and Odeogberin’s tenacious efforts to turn the ball in defence. Wasps power play brought more 10-point delights from Rachel Dunn but it simply wasn’t enough to match Lightning’s dominant display.
Loughborough Lightning 61 – 35 Wasps
Speaking of the side’s win and her return to English soil, Harten said;
“That was so much fun! I don’t ever play with a smile on my face but this group of girls have been electric all day and the crowd have been electric – what a great atmosphere.
“Sara [Bayman] has led this team beautifully, so I’d love to play again if they will have me. It has been a pleasure to pull on the purple dress again. I am 30-years-old now and I feel so rejuvenated; there are young kids, 18, 19, running around working their backsides off to get us the ball. It has been an absolute team effort and a privilege to pull on the purple dress again.”